White conservatives’ minstrel tradition

Lee A. Daniels1 14
Lee A. Daniels

(George Curry Media) – Ben Carson is in serious political trouble, as his wacky and right-wing views on numerous issues draw more scrutiny and critical pieces of the “inspirational” back story he’s been telling for years get exposed as “fabrications.”

A looming question now is what more of the political games of truth and consequences regarding Carson is yet to be played. Nonetheless, it’s still worth exploring why Carson’s near lily-White base of supporters have found him so appealing.

Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg offers a partial – and revealing – answer why in a recent column praising the now retired neurosurgeon.

Writing in the National Review Online, one of the conservative movement’s Bibles, Goldberg asserts that because both of Carson’s parents were Black Americans and he grew up “in Detroit, the son of a very poor, very hard-working single mother,” he could be considered “even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white and that he was raised in part by his white grandparents.”

Got it? Carson is a graduate of two elite educational institutions, Yale and Johns Hopkins University Medical School, who forged a career as a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Obama graduated from two elite educational institutions, Columbia and Harvard Law School, before rising through the dense thicket of local, state and national politics to the presidency of the United States.

But to Goldberg what makes Carson, with his extraordinarily elite credentials and experience “even more authentically Black” than Obama, with his extraordinarily elite credentials and experience, is the race and economic status of their respective parents.

Aside from having two Black American parents and being “very poor,” Goldberg never does define what makes one Black American “even more authentically Black” than another – or, for that matter, what authentic blackness itself is.

Perhaps we’ll get that in comparative terms when Goldberg applies this curious kind of racial sorting to other politicos. For example, is Carly Fiorina a “more authentic” White woman than Hillary Clinton? Ted Cruz a more authentic Latino American than Marco Rubio? And, of course, Goldberg must tell us which of the White male candidates in both parties embody the more “authentic” qualities of White American male-hood.

Goldberg’s pathetic gambit unmasks two particularly important dynamics in today’s conservative politics. One is that White conservatives have never forgiven Barack and Michelle Obama – and the large cohort of high-achieving Black Americans of the post-1960s they directly represent – for not drinking the Republican Kool-Aid. That’s why they’ve never stopped declaring this or that one of the paltry number of Black conservatives “better” than the president and the first lady of the United States.

Of course, Goldberg isn’t the first White conservative to declare Black conservatives are the “authentic” or “real” Black Americans. Earlier in October, media baron Rupert Murdoch tweeted the same ludicrous claim that Carson, who’s never taken upon himself any public responsibility, is “better” than the one who every day must make innumerable critical decisions affecting not only American society but much of the world.

Indeed, all Black conservatives – Herman Cain, for example, the White conservatives’ Black idol of the 2012 presidential primary cycle – get that gushing “blessing” from White conservatives at one time or another.

This is a longstanding tradition of conservatism – rooted, obviously, in the racist traditions of the slave era and the near-century-long racist reign of terror that followed, when White supremacists were similarly obsessed with designating which Black people were “bad” and which were “good.” It should be no surprise that for today’s conservatives, it’s become the political equivalent of another of those eras’ dirty traditions: blackface minstrelsy.

For what is a “minstrel” in American terms but a caricature created to confirm the biases of its creator and its audience. One purpose of the White majority’s addiction to blackface minstrelsy can be found in the “corked up” minstrel mask itself. In the old days everyone understood what the mask represented: the White-racist view of the world. That was so whether the face behind the mask was White or Black.

Of course, there have always been Black Americans with conservative views that ranged from moderate to extreme. But the political cohort known as “Black conservatives” is promoted by White conservatives to express views hostile to Black advancement that White conservatives either don’t want to say directly or need the support of a “Black face” to better avoid the charge of racism.

Some White conservatives even have a sense of ownership.

“Our Blacks are so much better than their Blacks,” Ann Coulter said on Fox. “To become a Black Republican, you don’t just roll into it. You’re not going with the flow. You have fought against probably your family members, probably your neighbors, you have thought everything out and that’s why we have very impressive Blacks in our party.”

Goldberg’s laughable assertion, and the GOP’s atrocious record of electing Black candidates to office, underscores that White conservatives still look upon “their Blacks” as pawns in their war against the overwhelming majority of Black Americans who don’t feel the need to seek their favor and don’t worry about being “authentically Black” because, in all their infinite variety, they are.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at http://www.amazon.com.

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